A week before the presentation of the general budget, 2020-21, Chief Justice of India (CJI) SA Bobde said that tax should not be burdened on the citizens. While tax evasion is a social injustice to the rest of the country, the CJI said, if the government imposes arbitrary or excessive taxes, it will also be a social injustice by the government.
Reminding people of the world’s first pro-market economist, India’s very own Chanakya or Kautilya, the CJI cited ancient laws of the land on taxation. He said taxes should be collected from people in a manner honey bee draws nectar from flowers without harming it.
CJI Bobde was speaking on the occasion of the 79th establishment ceremony of the Income Tax Tribunal (ITAT).
While successive finance ministers in India have eased income tax on the middle class by tweaking the slabs and the rates of this particular kind of tax and GST rates are constantly reduced in council meetings, several governments in the recent past including the current one squeeze money out of the people through “cess”, a tax charged over another tax to meet the financial demand of a certain project of the government of the day.
Swachh Bharat is funded since 2015 by a 0.5% cess on services. The Narendra Modi government hiked the cess on petrol and diesel in 2019. Current minister with the finance portfolio Nirmala Sitharaman introduced a communist-like tax the “super-rich” must pay. Cess was how both the British government and the Jawaharlal Nehru government used to fund their fancy projects. Indian taxpayers pay cess on school, higher and senior citizens’ education and for farmers by way of the Krishi Kalyan cess too.
The salaried class complains also about the fact that they are the only taxpayers whom the income tax system punishes via TDS; the business class gets away by under-reporting their real income.
Concerned about a huge backlog of tax-related cases, the CJI said, “A just and speedy dispute resolution is perceived as a tax incentive by the taxpayer. To the tax collector, an efficient tax judiciary assures that demands arising out of legitimate assessment are not strangled in delayed litigation.”
At the Supreme Court, High Court and Customs Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) 2,73,591 cases were pending as on 30 June 2017 whereas the backlog had significantly dropped to 1,05,756 as on 31 March 2019, which was a reduction of 61%.
As many as 3.41 lakh direct tax cases were pending before commissioner (appeals) while 92,205 cases were unaddressed before the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) as on 31 March 2019.
The CJI said that an efficient tax justice system should ensure that the cases arising out of valid assessment did not get caught in litigation. He reminded the audience that in 2008, the United Nations Development Programme had taken the Indian Income Tax Appellate Tribunal as a case study of a success story from the developing world and it was introduced as a role model to other developing countries during the UNDPI event in New York.
On the question of automation to speed up trials, the CJI preferred a balance between artificial intelligence and human discretion.”I am firm in the view based on the experience of systems that have used artificial intelligence that it is only the repetitive area or decision making that is rates of taxation etc or something which is invariably the same which is in a sense mechanical that must be covered by artificial intelligence. I do not believe that artificial intelligence should ever be allowed to substitute the human discretion which is necessary for a just decision making,” he said.